By Elly Cosgrove | June 4, 2021 at 10:45 PM EDT – Updated June 4 at 11:46 PM
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – More than 50 people gathered on the steps of City Hall in Downtown Wilmington to raise awareness and advocate for change in combating the synthetic drug epidemic.
The rally was part of a broader national rally organized by the Association of People Against Lethal Drugs, or APALD. More than 40 groups across the country organized rallies in different cities.
“The mission is the same in every location,” said Linda Warren, who organized the Wilmington rally and lost her own granddaughter to lethal drugs. “The mission is to create a public outcry to address the epidemic that’s going on with drug abuse and drug addiction. Fentanyl has made it exponentially worse.”
Patricia Drewes, who is a part of an organization called Forgotten Victims, drove several hours to attend the APALD rally held in Wilmington. She lost her own daughter, Heaven Leigh Nelson, to a fentanyl overdose. She has made it her mission to help create change.
“We want justice,” she said. “When you add fentanyl to any drug, that changes everything — fentanyl is murder.”
Flashlights were handed out at the rally that were inscribed with a message: I am the light, you are the light, we are the light.
“My hope is that whenever you turn your little flashlight on, you’ll say those words: ‘I am the light, you are the light, we are light,’ and when you say that you’ll say a little prayer for the families of Wilmington,” Warren said.
“I am the light, you are the light, we are the light — that’s a place where we can reach everyone,” said Sir Robert Newkirk, publisher of Sir Robert Magazine. “It’s all about humanity — understanding that we are each other’s keepers.”
New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David says that APALD is a fitting acronym for the nationwide rally against lethal drug use.
“We should be appalled that a person a week, roughly, is dying in this region from opioids, five North Carolinians a day — we should be appalled by that,” David said. “We should be proud that this is the state and, specifically, this is the district that led the fight to make it a very serious felony to cause an overdose death as a drug dealer.”
Under North Carolina law, David said anyone pedaling poison for profit can be prosecuted for the equivalent of second-degree murder if a customer dies from an overdose.
Drewes dropped to her knees in 2019 after her daughter passed away, but that when she eventually managed to stand up again — she came up fighting, she said.
“That’s what I try tell all these other mothers, ‘we can either lay down and die with our children or we can stand up and fight,’” she said. “We can fight for change. We can fight for justice. Fight for those still struggling.”
Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo also attended the rally and said that the city and New Hanover County sued the distributors of opioids several years ago and is hopeful they are close to a significant settlement with the entire state of North Carolina.
“The State of North Carolina is looking at a possible several billion dollars,” he said. “The county of New Hanover, according to what I’ve been told, will be looking somewhere between 23 to 24 million dollars that will be coming back into the community to help us with treatment — primarily that money is to be used for beds, for treatment centers.”
In 2020, there were over 80,000 lethal drug deaths in the United States.
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